Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners okay park center funding, animal shelter next

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Patience was rewarded Tuesday as the Porter County Board of Commissioners signed off on their part in approving $1.5 million for the long-awaited construction of the Raise the Barn education center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

The money is to be drawn from the interest accrued on the proceeds of the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital which requires majority votes from the Commissioners and the County Council.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said he will be at the Council’s meeting on April 23 to seek their approval.

Voting 2-0 to tap into the fund were Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, and fellow Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South. Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, was away Tuesday to accept an award from the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

“Everyone in this room has heard about this project for a long, long time. I think it is time we did something about it,” Evans said. “Let’s get it done.”

If the request is approved by the Council, this will be the largest sum allocated from the hospital interest fund which currently has an accumulation of $10.7 million.

Both boards have dipped into the fund for matters such as subsidies for the Family and Youth Services Bureau and Porter County Council on Aging, new radio equipment for fire stations, and more recently $600,000 for Porter County PACT.

The pledge of hospital interest money will not cover the entire construction costs, however. Lenckos has estimated the costs at up to $3 million and the remainder of the tab will be covered by private donations. The Porter County Parks Foundation had started a campaign years ago for the center that has raised $200,000.

Lenckos said the parks department hopes to break ground on the project sometime this year. The design for the 10,000 sq. ft. center has been a work in progress. Updated floor plans shown at the April 4 park board meeting include new office space for the parks and the Recycling and Waste Reduction District.

When it comes to programming, Lenckos said the parks have been at full capacity with summer camps for the last two years and the program center is “constantly booked up.” Having the extra facility will allow the parks department to expand its services, Lenckos said adding that groups are now having to be turned away because of high demand.

New Animal Shelter

Evans said the Commissioners will also be talking to the County Council soon about using another $1.5 million in hospital interest fund money toward the building of a new animal shelter.

Evans said that the turnaround of the animal shelter from horrid to workable conditions has caused it to fall out of the news headlines, but it has not fallen out of the minds of the Commissioners who are still committed to building a bigger shelter.

And just like Raise the Barn, the cost for a shelter had been estimated at a little less than $3 million, but Evans said he thinks the costs will be lower as the County seeks out a builder.

Earlier this year, Lakeshore PAWS dropped out of negotiations to help build a new facility using private donations. Lakeshore’s co-founder and president Jeanne Sommer had told the Chesterton Tribune there were many complications in establishing responsibility for animal control which bogged down efforts to build its adoption facility.

Evans said the County will look to raise funds on its own. An anonymous donor has also come forward to match the amount of contributions. Curt Ellis who manages the Shelter’s Facebook page said the Kids Power group which supports the Shelter will be promoting a “Hounds About Town” fundraiser in May where businesses can purchase concrete dog statues and decorate them for a contest. Kids Power last year raised about $3,000 for the Shelter, Ellis said.

The new shelter will be centrally located, he said, and the board has eyed the county-owned land at the intersection of Ind. 130 and Ind. 149 as a potential spot.

PCCRVC board appointments

Evans and Blaney also voted to approve expanding the County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission from nine to eleven members.

In doing so, they appointed Chuck Williams, of Valparaiso, as their Republican appointment and Doug Olson, of Portage, as their Democratic appointment.

As they had announced previously, the commissioners said the new members would be tasked primarily with promoting amateur sporting events throughout the county.

“They have shown a strong commitment for this,” said Evans who added that both men have played in sports.

PCCRVC board members do not receive pay from the County. The board will meet on Thursday this week at 3 p.m. at the Indiana Dune Visitor Center to create a new sports cabinet.

In other business:

-- The Commissioners approved a second reading on an ordinance to prohibit protests within 300 feet of a funeral service.

-- A contract of $4,328 per year was awarded to Martell Electric LLC to purchase fiber optics that will allow quicker internet service, digital phone service and back-up networks at the Memorial Opera House, the County History Museum, and the Courthouse. ITS Director Sharron Lippens said the contract will have paid for itself after two years.

-- The commissioners expanded Ellis’ contract to include social media services for the Shelter, the Memorial Opera House, the County Parks, the Expo Center, the refurbished MS4 stormwater program, and the County as a whole. Ellis will be paid $18,000 this year.



Posted 4/18/2013





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